Ten observations about Nielson/Democracy International opinion pollsby David Bergman
THE opinion polls undertaken over the last year by AC Nielson working with the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International—some of the results of which New Age published on Wednesday—are of particular interest as the country approaches elections.
These are my ten observations from the figures that New Age published:
1. The swing towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is obviously good news for the opposition party. In November 2012, the party was 9 points down on the Awami League and by July 2013 it was 11 points ahead. It is ‘winning’ the youth vote, a quarter of those who voted for the Awami League in the 2008 elections, and constituencies which are historically those that the ruling party has won.
2. It is unclear what particular issues triggered the sudden movement of support towards the BNP. In June 2012, the parties were neck and neck and in November 2012, the Awami League had as much as a 9 percentage point lead. It was over the subsequent nine-month period, that that Awami League flat-lined and the BNP surged.
3. It is possible that support for the BNP reflected the party winning the ‘ideological’ wars that ensued following the Shahbagh protests and the rise of Hefajat-e-Islam. The conventional wisdom was that the Awami League’s linkage to the ‘liberation war’ of Bangladesh and to holding ‘war criminals’ to account would serve it well in any ideological conflict with the BNP and that these issues could possibly turn an election in its favour. However, it appears that the way these issues played themselves out following the Quader Molla war crimes conviction—and, in particular, how the BNP-supporting media turned the Shahbagh debate into one about Islam—played into the BNP’s favour.
4. It is important to note that from November 2012, although the BNP’s support surged, the Awami League’s support has not declined; in fact, it increased by a few percentage point. The BNP support appears to have come from those who earlier were undecided; with the election ever closer, more people have begun to make up their mind, and the polls suggest that they are plumping for the BNP.
5. Despite the poor headline news for the Awami League, there are reasons for the BNP not to get too overconfident. Perhaps, the most important number for the Awami League is that 19 per cent of voters (one fifth of the electorate) have not yet decided. If these voters swing towards the Awami League in the next few months, the position of the parties could look significantly different.
6. In addition, there are numbers in the opinion polls that should give the Awami League hope that these undecided voters could turn towards supporting it. Most voters say they are themselves better off than they were five years ago, and also think the economy is doing well. These figures are in many countries seen as a proxy to how well the incumbent party will do in an election. However, it should be noted that widespread concern about high prices—when asked in July 2013 ‘what are the three main problems facing Bangladesh?’ 48 per cent said ‘high price of commodities’—a day-to-day issue faced by families, could perhaps counteract their otherwise positive view that the economy is doing well.
7. The Awami League should also be thankful to see that the number of those who think that the country is going in the ‘wrong direction’ is at least decreasing (from 84 per cent in April 2013 to 58 per cent, three months later) - even though only a minority still consider that the country is going in the right direction. However, it is notable that in the same period that this figure moved in the government’s favour, the BNP’s support grew by 37 to 43 per cent.
8. There is nothing to suggest in the polls that support for the BNP is a ‘positive’ vote in its favour (rather than a negative vote against the AL) though there were in fact no questions in the opinion polls that looked directly at that issue. It is, therefore, possible that effective messaging over the next months by the Awami League about its ‘achievements’ during its last five years could change the level of support it receives — and you can see the prime minister now doing heavy electioneering to that effect.
9. For its part, the BNP, of course, needs to hammer the ‘negatives’ of the government over the last five years (and how the party would change Bangladesh for the better). At the moment, however, the BNP’s message only appears to relate to the form of government that should manage the elections. Whilst, its support for the caretaker government is, as the polls showed, a popular view held by most people (though an increasing minority consider elections held under a political government to be tolerable), with the Awami League in heavy electioneering mode, it is surprising that BNP does not seek to get a wider message out.
10. It is notable that the BNP has said very little in support of Jamaat-e-Islami, which continues to be the party’s major ally, and has said almost nothing about the convictions of Jamaat leaders at the International Crimes Tribunal. This is likely to reflect the BNP’s reading of the polls that Jamaat is increasingly irrelevant in electoral terms, and the war crimes tribunals have wide support. The BNP will be relieved to know that it seems to have escaped being significantly tarnished by the allegations, widely made by the Awami League over the last year, that the party supports ‘war criminals’ (only 25 per cent of voters in the April 2013 poll believed that) — and no doubt will want to ensure that this does not change. How the BNP plays the war crimes issue in the coming months will be interesting since Jamaat will no doubt be putting pressure on the BNP to respond to any Appellate Court decisions that uphold death penalties. For the BNP, this is a dangerous issue. However, since a majority of voters, despite their support for the trials, also believe the process to be ‘unfair/very unfair’, there may well be some room for the BNP to support Jamaat in their criticisms of the tribunal process, without receiving negative blowback.
David Bergman is editor, special reports, at New Age.
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THE opinion polls undertaken over the last year by AC Nielson working with the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International—some of the results of which New Age published on Wednesday—are of particular interest as the country approaches elections. Full story
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